When Karly talks to her friends, most of them don't know it took years of hard work for her to develop her speech skills. Karly was born with a condition called cleft lip and palate. As a child, she had several operations to fix the problem. Today the only sign of those surgeries is a slight scar on her upper lip.
Cleft lip and palate are birth defects that happen while a baby is developing in the uterus. During the 6th to 10th week of pregnancy, the bones and tissues of a baby's upper jaw, nose, and mouth normally come together (fuse) to form the roof of the mouth and the upper lip. If this doesn't happen properly, a baby could be born with a cleft lip or cleft palate, or both.
The palate is the roof of the mouth. The front part of the palate behind the teeth is hard. The back part near the throat is soft.
In babies with cleft palate, there is an opening between the roof of the mouth and the nose. This opening may be through part of the palate (either the soft part or hard part) or through the entire palate.
A baby born with a cleft palate often has a cleft lip as well. A cleft lip is a gap or opening in the upper (top) lip. Most of the time, a cleft is only in the upper lip and doesn't affect the lower lip.
A cleft lip can be either unilateral or bilateral.
With a unilateral cleft lip, the gap is only on one side of the lip under either the left or right nostril and might extend into the nose.
Babies born with a bilateral cleft lip have a gap on both sides of the lip, and they may have a deep split in the lip that extends into both nostrils.
A person with a cleft could have only a cleft palate, only a cleft lip, or both a cleft lip and a cleft palate. Cleft lip alone and cleft lip with a cleft palate occurs more often in boys, while cleft palate without a cleft lip occurs more often in girls.
Doctors don't always know exactly why a baby develops cleft lip or cleft palate. They believe it may be a combination of two things:
Because the palate is supposed to stop food and liquid from going up the nose when eating, newborn babies with cleft palate may have trouble breastfeeding. They might need to use a bottle with a special nipple.
Teens born with cleft lip and palate usually don't have trouble eating because their clefts were repaired when they were babies. But they may have a few remaining issues, such as:
Most kids with clefts have no other health problems, but some might have:
Most babies born with cleft palate have surgery to close the hole in the roof of the mouth when they're between 9 and 12 months old.
People with a complete cleft lip and palate need several surgeries to repair the cleft. These include cleft lip repair, cleft palate repair, and a bone graft to the upper jaw to close the bone gap in the gum area. Some people need more surgery on the palate or in the throat to improve speech.
A cleft palate team includes doctors with different specialties, such as:
Because so many specialists are involved in treating cleft palate, one doctor usually oversees and coordinates the different treatments.
People with cleft lip or palate may spend a lot of time at the dentist and orthodontist. Hearing tests to check for hearing problems and speech therapy to improve speech skills and patterns are often part of treatment, too. Some kids with cleft palate may have an operation to put tubes in their ears to help prevent ear infections.
Although most cleft lip and palate surgeries are done while kids are young, some people also may have plastic surgery when they're teens or even adults. Plastic surgery can improve the bite and position of the jaws, help people breathe better, make the nose look better, and improve facial balance.
Someone born with cleft lip and palate may wonder, "Why me?" Psychologists and therapists often help teens deal with the emotional effects of cleft lip and palate, such as scarring from surgery, coping with speech problems, or improving self-esteem. Some teens join support groups or online forums where they can talk to other people who were born with cleft lip or palate.
Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: August 2014
Originally reviewed by: Joseph A. Napoli, MD, DDS, and Linda D. Vallino, PhD, MS, CCC-SLP/A, FASHA
|Cleft Palate Foundation/American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association The Cleft Palate Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life of people affected by facial birth defects. For information and support. Call: (800) 24-CLEFT|
|AboutFace International AboutFace is an international organization that provides information and emotional support to individuals with facial differences and their families. Call: (800) 665-FACE|
|March of Dimes The March of Dimes seeks to prevent birth defects, infant mortality, low birthweight, and lack of prenatal care.|
|Hearing Impairment Hearing impairment occurs when there's a problem with or damage to one or more parts of the ear. The degree of impairment can vary widely. Find out its causes and what can be done to help correct it.|
|Hearing Impairment: Kristin's Story You wouldn't know it to meet her, but when Kristin was only 18 months old, her doctors diagnosed her with a hearing impairment. She had to learn to hear in a very different way from her peers - and developed some handy lipreading skills along the way!|
|Speech Problems Do you know someone who stutters or has another speech disorder? Find out how speech disorders are treated, how you can help a friend or classmate cope, and lots more.|
|Plastic Surgery Lots of images may come to mind when you think of plastic surgery. This special type of surgery involves a person's appearance and ability to function.|
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